Trial underway for Ky. sailor accused of setting fire on US Navy ship

Ryan Sawyer Mays, who is from the Ashland area, is charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel.
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 9:38 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The trial for a Kentucky sailor accused of setting a fire on a US Navy ship is underway in San Diego.

Ryan Sawyer Mays, who is from the Ashland area, is charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. The fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard burned for more than four days in July 2020.

Mays continues to deny any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors argue Mays was an “arrogant sailor who was mad about being assigned deck duty after failing to become a Navy Seal.” His defense says the Navy is in the wrong, and claims investigators said Mays started the fire before the probe was finished and ignored evidence that did not fit their narrative.

It’s a case that’s received national attention.

“His defense is he didn’t do it,” case expert Gary Barthel said.

Mays is facing a military judge this week for charges of arson and willful hazarding of a vessel. The July 2020 fire burned for days, and the damage was so extensive, the ship was scrapped. More than 60 sailors and civilians were injured.

“More importantly, there’s been evidence presented that the Navy was storing lithium ion batteries in combustible containers down in the ‘lower v.’ I anticipate that the defense experts are going to testify that these lithium ion batteries could have been a potential source of the fire,” Barthel said.

Barthel represented Seaman Mays in the earlier phase of the court process and is working with his new defense team. He said Mays is being used as a scapegoat for the Navy’s misdoing.

“Somebody needs to answer as to what happened,” Barthel said.

Mays faces serious time in prison if he is convicted on these charges. The arson charge holds a maximum 25 years behind bars, and the willful hazarding of a vessel carries a max of life in prison.

The trial is expected to last throughout next week.